Monday, February 8, 2010

Taking criticism from the right people can lead you out of mediocrity

In the blogosphere you must question why you are blogging if you do not feel a little uncomfortable as your mouse hovers over the publish button.

When you put yourself 'out there' and say what you really think then you have to accept what comes back at you in the comments section.

I think sometimes that's easier said than done.

For example it’s easy to accept nice, supportive comments because then you know that you have reached readers who are a good fit for you.

Unfortunately nice supportive comments can feel a bit stale after a while. By stale I mean tedious from familiarity, boring and static. I believe that blogging by consensus will not move you forward.

I am the first to admit that I’m the one leaving nice supportive comments on the majority of the blogs that I read. A post that gets a nice supportive comment from me is usually a safe, balanced post that leaves me a little entertained.

More often than not I find myself wishing that more was revealed, and that there was some talk of other less positive issues that I face, such as money problems, relationship issues, etc.

And what’s more, if a less shiny side of the blogger’s life saw the light of day in their posts then I would find it harder to simply write a safe, supportive, nice comment.

I have never received any negative or constructive criticism on any of my posts, but I know that if I did I would be lead away from my position in an attempt to please those who did not agree with me. I am quite sure this would happen even though I know that it is impossible to please everybody. If you’ve never had a negative comment then you should reread the previous paragraphs again, along with me, and repeat as necessary.

So where does that leave me? My safe posts attract nice, supportive, and often' ho hum' comments that may keep me in mediocrity (this is why I am sweating as I hover over the publish button for this post because I am biting the supportive hands that feed my ego) and if I write posts that move me forward then I must deal with any negative criticism in a way that maintains my position. It’s clear to me that I both want to, and need to move forward.

So here is the deal. I will find the courage to be a better blogger if you will comment in a way that moves me forward. I want comments that ask more of me. I want your interactive, brain switched on, comments and I want your gritty engagement.

I will offer you no less than that in my future comments on those posts of yours that make you sweat.


Katherine Jenkins said...

Try blogging every single day..there's no possible way to show your shiny side at all times...I hit the wall. Actually, I think negative criticism is unproductive. I like constructive criticism. I'm working with an editor now and she is really working me to go deeply into my writing, but she's constructive and makes me think about the other side of things. She never says, "This sucks and there's no hope for you!" Now that would be negative criticism. To be honest, I'm not very good with hanging out with the "negatives". They haven't ventured into my world very often, when they do, I listen, see if there's anything constructive in what they have to say. If not, I delete.

Heather Conroy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

I agree with Kathy - constructive suggestions yes, but negativity no. There are ways to be challenged without being negative.

marcime said...

Heather - I am so ON to your post!
It's like you took the thoughts out of my head and blogged them for me!

Thanks for being the courageous one that I was not...

When I don't recieve much feedback on posts, I take it as a silent form of critique - constructive in an way - as I then look at the post from the reader's point of view and, well, guess what did not resonate with them - too long, too wordy, not honest enough? I think that all may apply to me. I have found this helpful to me as a writer - and I have learned from other's writing - which makes me a better writer (ok, not yet, I'm working on it:)

I agree with you that I want/need more engagement - more grappling with the issues I raise and disagreement too - I of course need/want positive comments too - I need it all - as long as it is honest and true.

I too am a bit scared of offering honesty - like constructive critique of writing for instance - such as, for example: "great ideas and love those certain lines, but you had me at the third paragraph - if you edited it down to three I bet you could get your idea across perfectly -oh and nice way of saying such and such"

I am not sure this is what bloggers want on this site - IT could be...but I do not know. Maybe we could invite constructive critique in a pre-note before our piece, so that readers know we are ok with that - that we want it.? And if bloggers don't do that, then we know just to read and send comments if we connected with the piece...? Kathy?

Katherine Jenkins said...

Heather-I think it wasn't clear in my post above that I completely agree with you, so I wanted to say that. When I get posts that say, "This is great!" it can feel like I am falling into mediocrity like you mentioned in your post. At the same time, maybe someone really feels that? I think the question comes when there isn't a comment..that maybe a comment of constructive criticism would be better than no comment at all? I think a lot of bloggers choose to comment on what resonates with them rather than use blogging as a way to critique writing. That being said, I totally agree with Marcella. If someone has writing that they would like to submit for publication or just wants a constructive critique or feedback, I think a pre-note mentioning that desire is a really good idea.

Heather Conroy said...

Hey thanks for the gritty engagement! My point is that it's hard to leave a "that's great" on a post where the author has needed courage to publish it and there's still room for other types of writing in blogging (it's not all or nothing). I just want more courage from me and you.

Mansi said...

Your post and the comments that ensued, made me think -- who are we writing for? Is it solely for our readers, to appease to their tastes, to hit a nerve with them? Or is it for ourselves? Is it a release of emotion, passion, and our innermost thoughts, or is it just all a show? I have had a mix of both congratulatory and critical comments and what I love about both is that it allows a discourse. Whether positive or constructive (negative), comments open the door to engagement, but that shouldn't be the primary purpose to write. You have something in your heart that you want to share -- whether people like it or not and whether they choose to voice their reaction is up to them. Every time you write genuine, honest pieces, you grow as a person. Just my 0.02.

Anonymous said...

I think the ground has been covered pretty well here, I agree with Katherine, a pre-post of what kind of feedback you are looking for is a good idea. There are ways to get a debate or specific feedback in the construction of the post, for example, asking your readers to answer questions on specific topics, or posing a problem and asking the readers for feedback on what their solution would be.
I try to engage in my comments based on the content of the posts I'm reading, sometimes there is more to comment about than at other times.
I don't mind positive comments and the negative comments I will comment back to and try to reframe in a positive light if I see the commenter has good intentions but may just have a negative outlook. The truly negative to just be snarky and negative, I delete.
As far as constructive critiques, always welcome and appreciated. One piece of constructive criticism I would give all bloggers is to shorten their posts, I try to break my longer posts into a series when I feel they are getting longer than I would like to read in one sitting. (A bit of irony for you in a long comment!)


Pamela Bousquet said...

Ditto, ditto, and DITTO!!

I happen to agree with ALL of you, and welcome the opportunities for dialogue and educational moments!

Thank you Heather for opening up this discussion!

Sai said...

An interesting discussion! I think the whole criticism thing also depends on the intent of the writing - some people write just to let their feelings out. Let's face it - we're constantly "judged" in our jobs, and blogging is an activity for which some of us don't necessarily look forward to lists of "development areas" like we get during performance appraisals at work. On the other hand, there are those of us for whom writing is an art, and perhaps a profession too, and so we welcome constructive critiques in an effort to refine our talent. It's interesting, because as a musician, each time I've sung, I've gotten mostly great responses, but there's sometimes the odd person or two who is harsh with their criticism of my performance. I'm not sure I can handle the negative ones very well, but I try and use the criticism to improve on what I already have, and make sure the criticism doesn't shake the foundations of confidence that my talent should be built on.